Doing inspections via video, taking advantage of reduced traffic to speed up road projects, and banning food trucks from jobsites are just some of the ways the construction industry is adjusting to COVID-19 repercussions.
After all, for construction managers and workers, adapting to changing and even dangerous conditions is just part of the job.
Virtual building inspections
A building inspector in Bothell, Washington (near Seattle), did the final inspection of a new Starbucks store virtually, using FaceTime and notes he had taken during construction. The store got its certificate of occupancy and opened on schedule for drive-through operations.
"This could be scratching the surface of new, innovative ways to allow construction projects to continue," Scott Whittington told the Phoenix Business Journal (story is behind a paywall). Whittington is principal of the developer, Avalon Development.
"There is some protocol that will need to be hammered out," Whittington said, "but it could be implemented in any municipality."
Greeley, Colorado, is already implementing it. The city has instituted remote video inspection during the COVID-19 emergency for remodeling of occupied interior commercial and residential spaces. "For new construction, though, they have to go out there in person," Director of Community Development Brad Mueller told the Colorado Daily.
Hannah Long, co-owner of Loveland, Colorado-based H3 Construction and Design, said, "Our scheduled inspection walk-throughs have all been FaceTimes. Sometimes they are accepting pictures. It could be done on a tablet or by Project Managers with their phones. It actually works pretty well."
The International Code Council hosted a webinar about remote inspections this week. Inspectors from Ohio, Nevada, and Florida mentioned several advantages, including saving time they'd otherwise spend driving to and from projects. They also noted some challenges, such as getting older inspectors comfortable with the technology.
"One thing is clear, according to the webinar," said the industry publication Construction Dive. "The departments that have either chosen to begin a video inspection program or were forced into it because of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue using this method of inspection after the health crisis is over."
Boon for road builders
Road construction may actually accelerate, said Mary Wisniewski, transportation reporter for the Chicago Tribune. "Usually, closing down the Jackson Bridge, which they're doing for 2 years—this is the bridge that goes over the Kennedy Expressway—would be causing all sorts of moans and lamentations coming up from commuters," she told WGN Radio in Chicago.
"But there's hardly anyone on the roads, so they can go out there and get the work done."
Metra, Chicago's commuter rail system, is taking advantage of drastically reduced ridership to speed up track replacement, station improvements, and other jobs, Wisniewski said. Metra has said it expects to lose 97% of its usual riders in April and May, and 90% in June.
"They've started some of their projects 2 weeks earlier," Wisniewski said, "and they think they're going to be able to finish some of them faster and be able to save some money."
Florida is fast-tracking several transportation projects, including reconstruction of Interstate 4 through metro Orlando. Governor Ron DeSantis said lighter traffic will allow workers to close additional lanes, close some less-traveled roads entirely, and work longer each day. That, he said, should get the project completed 1 or 2 months ahead of schedule.
Difficult conditions? What else is new?
The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California has instituted tough measures to protect its members, including taking temperatures at work sites, sterilizing tools and other equipment, banning food trucks, and mandating strict social distancing.
Robbie Hunter, president of the union, said construction workers adapt to difficult conditions all the time. "We've trained our people to work in the borax mines, in tunnels underneath the bay," he said. "And we build 80-story skyscrapers without losing a worker—or even a serious injury.
"We are used to serious training for different scenarios—and we have applied everything we've got on this."